ICE agents conducted raids on a 16-location car wash franchise called Danny's Family Car Wash in Phoenix last weekend, arresting 14 people and ultimately releasing 179 of the 223 people who were detained for questioning. The New York Times reported that most of the 223 employees who were detained are in the country illegally. An ICE spokesperson, Barbara Gonzalez, told reporters that the arrests were part of a criminal probe targeting the owners of the business for possible identity fraud and other crimes, not an enforcement action directed at the employees. I was struck by the almost apologetic tone of her comments.
"I want to make clear for the community that this was not an immigration-enforcement operation," she said outside one of the car wash locations. "This was a criminal investigation. As everyone here knows, we target employers, employers that aren't playing by the rules. We don't target the employees, we're targeting the companies that are not playing by the rules."
So here we have a spokesperson for an organization called Immigration and Customs Enforcement trying to reassure the "community" that ICE was not and has no plans to actually enforce immigration laws against illegal immigrants. I'm not sure what "community" Ms. Gonzalez is speaking to, but I can only conclude that the subtext is a not-very subtle message to illegal immigrants: "Don't worry, we don't care."
According to the Times, a federal audit in 2011 revealed that many of the company's employees were in the country illegally. Apparently, this "family" business's racket was to "fire" those employees, and then rehire them using false identities, according to investigators. Most of the employees who were detained were released because they were first-time offenders without criminal records.
We have no way of knowing what crimes the 44 employees who were arrested committed, if any, because as usual news reports focused on those who claimed they had done nothing wrong. Fox News Latino, the New York Times, the Arizona Star, and other media outlets used the term "rounded up" to describe the enforcement action. The
The term conjures up the famous line from "Casablanca": "Round up the usual suspects," and is meant to leave readers with the impression that suspects are being arbitrarily persecuted through no fault of their own. When you read the term "rounded up" it's hard not to think of concentration camps and totalitarian states like North Korea that send people off to the gulags for no good reason. "Detained", "questioned", or "arrested" would be more accurate than "rounded up", unless you're trying to advance the notion that the entire process is unfair.
With limited resources, it makes sense for ICE to focus enforcement on employers and aliens with serious criminal records. But I don't think it makes sense for them to be broadcasting the fact that they couldn't care less about individuals who break the laws they are supposed to be enforcing. And the repeated use of the term "rounded up" to describe immigration enforcement and investigations leaves the public with the bogus notion that frontier justice with no due process is the norm for illegal immigrants.